Donald Shoup on Free Parking

Donald Shoup supports free parking. At least, in a response to my first post about Tyler Cowen’s op ed against free parking, Dr. Shoup points out that he only wants the price of parking to be “right,” and “the right price [for parking] will often be zero.”

However, the main purpose of Shoup’s response is to correct my mistaken claim that he supports maximum-parking requirements, requirements that all businesses charge for parking, or other coercive policies. I apologize for that error.

In fact, Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking, argues only that cities should eliminate minimum-parking requirements and charge market rates for on-street parking, things that the Antiplanner favors as well. Where we disagree is about the effects of these policies.

The Antiplanner’s post pointed out that many municipalities do not have minimum-parking requirements, but businesses still offer plenty of free parking to their employees and customers. Shoup asks for “a list of some of these.” Virtually all counties in Texas, most counties in Nevada, and many counties in Indiana have no minimum-parking requirements, and I am sure I could find counties in many other states as well. Unlike California, where Shoup lives, and Oregon, where I live, these states do not restrict urban development to within city limits or urban-growth boundaries, and developments in unincorporated parts of these counties still offer plenty of free parking.

Much of Shoup’s response seems to assume that my posts were defending minimum-parking requirements. “City planners have no training that would enable them to estimate the demand for parking, and no financial stake in the success of a development,” says Shoup. “They know much less than developers do about how many parking spaces to provide for each project.” As I pointed out in my later posting on this issue, I entirely agree. My goal was to defend private provision of free parking.

That said, I think Shoup’s worries about the high cost of parking are overblown. As I pointed out in my first post, surface parking is cheap, and even structured parking is not terribly expensive in the long run. Most of Shoup’s analysis is not of the high cost of free parking but the high cost of zoning and minimum-parking requirements, and there the cost is only of the spaces that developers are forced to provide that they wouldn’t otherwise provide. Shoup and I seem to agree that businesses who want to free parking should be allowed to do so.

Unfortunately, many urban planners disagree; they want to set maximum-parking limits, and they often cite Shoup in their plans and proposals. The negative effects of such limits are likely to be as bad if not worse than minimum-parking requirements. Planners promote such limits in order to discourage driving, which planners say is bad.

Shoup himself uses similar anti-auto rhetoric. “Ubiquitous free parking helps explain why American motor vehicles, by themselves, consume one-eighth of the world’s total oil production,” Shoup says, for example. “America’s extravagant consumption of imported oil to fuel our cars is not sustainable, economically or environmentally, and anything that is not sustainable must eventually stop.” But we can find many alternatives to “extravagant consumption of imported oil” without limiting people’s mobility the way many urban planners want to do.

Planners with Portland’s Metro, for example, have set a goal of allowing congestion on most of the region’s highways to reach level of service F (meaning stop-and-go driving). They also promote “traffic calming” (a euphemism for congestion building), “boulevarding” (a euphemism for taking lanes away from autos in busy thoroughfares), and other anti-auto policies. But their own analyses found that these policies would have very little effect on the amount of driving people do. The biggest effect came from a plan to require that all businesses in the region charge for parking–yet even that effect was small, estimated to reduce per capita driving by about 2 percent. Even though such a plan has not been put into effect, at least a few years ago Metro’s transportation models assumed that it would be put into effect sometime in the next couple of decades.

As the Antiplanner has shown at length, trying to save energy or reduce auto emissions by reducing driving is not cost effective, and the resulting reduction in mobility could have serious negative effects on our economy. Instead, it is much more cost effective to make the cars we drive more energy efficient and/or capable of using alternative fuels, and if oil prices go up that will happen without government coercion anyway.

Although Shoup teaches in an urban planning school, he is actually an economist, and he and I share many areas of agreement. I won’t even mind if it turns out that I am wrong: if cities get rid of minimum-parking requirements without imposing maximum-parking limits and it leads businesses to charge for parking that are now offering it for free, that’s just the market at work. My only concern is that many planners are using Shoup’s work to promote their own coercive agendas. I hope he responds to them as vigorously as he responded to me.

One more thing: Shoup asks: “Can you tell me if the Cato Institute offers free parking for its employees? If so, does it also offer commuters the option to cash out their parking subsidies?” I do not work in Cato’s Washington, DC, office, but as far as I know it does offer free parking to at least some of its employees and does not provide a cash-out option. Cato is currently expanding its building and I understand it is installing showers for cyclists, as required by DC zoning codes, and is not providing a cash-out option for cyclists (or other employees) who do not plan to use those showers. As a cyclist, I’ll probably use those showers from time to time on my visits to DC. Perhaps someday Dr. Shoup and I will write a paper titled, “The High Cost of Free Showers.”

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About The Antiplanner

The Antiplanner is an economist with forty years of experience critiquing public land, urban, transportation, and other government plans.
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13 Responses to Donald Shoup on Free Parking

  1. FrancisKing says:

    On the question of maximum/minimum/no requirements for parking.

    It is important to disaggregate the different types of building use.

    Office developments provide car parking spaces when most employees could find equally acceptable ways of travelling to work. Hence a tough maximum provision is required. Problems getting people onto buses? My suspicion would be a poorly thought-out service. Problems with high CO2 emissions per km from buses? That’s due to a lack of support for transit, by providing too many parking spaces.

    Retail needs a good number of parking spaces, but has a high turnover of spaces. Retail needs, therefore, a large number of short stay parking spaces. Very different for an office.

    Finally, residential areas require large amounts of car parking. The residential area is where all the cars go at the end of the day. Residential areas require parking minimums to ensure that the cars don’t clog up the streets.

  2. bennett says:

    “The Antiplanner’s post pointed out that many municipalities do not have minimum-parking requirements, but businesses still offer plenty of free parking to their employees and customers. Shoup asks for “a list of some of these.” Virtually all counties in Texas, most counties in Nevada, and many counties in Indiana have no minimum-parking requirements, and I am sure I could find counties in many other states as well. Unlike California, where Shoup lives, and Oregon, where I live, these states do not restrict urban development to within city limits or urban-growth boundaries, and developments in unincorporated parts of these counties still offer plenty of free parking.”

    RE: Big Box (Due to it’s the usual suspect of over parking).

    I said this on the last post, but I’ll say it aging. I’ve reviewed many of these developments and worked on developing some as well. Big Box developers have a Spec book which guides design and is why all there developments are essentially the same. The primary reason that there is so much surface parking at these developments is due to the places that have parking minimum regs. The spec book is written to accommodate many standard growth management/zoning/building regulation typologies. The secondary reason is black Friday in which most locations are still over parked.

    That said, I’m assuming that the cost of parking provided by many developments is often rolled into the prices of the goods and services that are obtained at the location. Put another way, just because you don’t put cash in a meter, doesn’t mean the parking is free.

    A little off topic, but it reminds me of the “free” bus service for UT students in Austin. Both the school and CapMetro states that those who hold a valid student ID ride the bus for “free.” But the school pays CapMetro mucho$$$ every year for this service. They get that $$$ from student transportation fees. It’s not free, you just pay before you get on the bus.

  3. peter says:

    This is a tangential point, but I think I think it is important to set the record straight on traffic calming. You said:
    “Planners with Portland’s Metro….promote “traffic calming” (a euphemism for congestion building), “boulevarding” (a euphemism for taking lanes away from autos in busy thoroughfares), and other anti-auto policies.”
    Traffic calming policies aren’t intended to be anti-auto; rather, they’re pro-pedestrian. For decades our streets and sidewalks were designed by traffic engineers to promote auto flow, without regard to the safety or ease of travel for people on sidewalks. This was (and still is) another form governmental regulation favoring the automobile over other modes of travel. If you think individuals should have the freedom to choose how to get around, then you should support street design that makes travel safe and convenient for all street users.

  4. Dan says:

    Peter, this has been pointed out here several times. But Randal doesn’t let such facts get in the way of a good ideological argument.

    DS

  5. teb says:

    Anti-planner: “many municipalities do not have minimum-parking requirements, but businesses still offer plenty of free parking to their employees and customers. Shoup asks for “a list of some of these.” Virtually all counties in Texas …”

    Anti-planner refers to “virtually all counties in TX”; I don’t know if this was intended to make a distinction between cities and counties but he also refers to “municipalities” so:

    Minimum Parking Requirements in Texas:

    Review of every tenth TX ordinance on municode.com starting with Addison, TX. Bonus cities: Houston, Alamo Heights, and Balch Springs. No code reviewed lacked off-street parking requirements. Full zoning code for Henrietta TX could not be found however code refers to “parking consistent with and adequate for the use proposed” under regulation of alleys. Ordinance/zoning text is a sample excerpt of parking regulation, not the full text.

    Houston, TX code. Sec. 26-492. “the construction of a building for any of the following types of occupancies shall provide the requisite number of off-street parking spaces” (Office, Residential, Healthcare, Religious and Educational, Retail Services…)

    Addison, Tx: Appendix A, Article VIII. Sec 5A. “Adequate off-street parking spaces shall be provided to meet the requirements of the residents and their guests in each apartment project, but in no event shall the number of spaces provided be less than one for each efficiency, 1 1/2 for each one bedroom unit, two for each two bedroom unit and 2 1/2 for each three bedroom unit.”

    Alamo Heights, TX. Sec 3-38: For each zoning district “no building or structure or part thereof, shall be hereafter erected, altered, converted or enlarged for any permitted use in the district in which it is located unless off-street parking facilities are provided in accordance with the following: Two (2) spaces for each dwelling unit, one (1) of which may be uncovered”

    Athens, Tx. Zoning Ordinance (city website). Sec 33-2. D. A minimum oftwo (2) off-street parking spaces shall be provided for all single-family (detached and attached) and duplex (MF-2) dwelling units on the same lot as the main structure. … Additional parking shall be required for any recreational uses, club house, office, sales offices and/or visitors.

    Balch Springs, TX. Sec 90-413: b. Furniture stores shall provide off-street parking space at the ratio of one space for each 1,000 square feet of floor area.
    c. Medical or dental clinics shall provide off-street parking space at the ratio of one space for each 250 square feet of floor area. etc.

    Bowie, TX. Chapter 12, Sec 25-5: A. Bank, savings and loan: One (1) space for each three hundred (300) square feet of floor area.
    B. Bowling alley: Four (4) parking spaces for each alley or lane.” etc.

    Cedar Hill, TX. Zoning Ordinance (city website), Sec 5.1. In all districts, the minimum number of off-street parking spaces to be provided shall be as follows (refer to Section 4.1.2 for relation of parking groups to permitted uses):
    Group Minimum Number of Off-Street Parking Spaces Required
    1. 1 per unit; 2. 2 per unit; … 4. 2 per unit — 2-car garage; 5. 2 per unit — 1-car garage; 6. 1 per 50 sq. ft. of gross floor area + 12; … 39. 2 per caretakers unit; 40. Less than 15,000 sq. ft. of gross floor area – 1 per 200 sq. ft; 15,001-75,000 sq. ft. of gross floor area – 1 per 225 sq. ft. …
    600,001 and greater sq. ft. of gross floor area – 1 per 300 sq. ft.
    * Surface parking shall not exceed 110% of minimum required.

    Copperas Cove, TX. Sec 24-24g. Schedule of Minimum Off-Street Parking Standards
    USES NUMBER OF PARKING SPACES REQUIRED FOR EACH
    Single-family 2 Dwelling unit
    Two-family 2 Dwelling unit

    Dickinson, TX. Article IX. Sec. 18-99. Off-street parking schedule. The minimum number of parking spaces required is as follows:

    Ennis, Tx. Zoning Ordinance (city website). Sec 15-100. TABLE 15-103 Schedule of Off-street parking standards.

    Gainesville- Appendix A Sec 3.7

    Henrietta- Zoning code not found online. Sec. 23-47. “Alleys shall be provided in commercial and industrial districts, except that the commission may waive this requirement where other definite and assured provision is made for service access, such as off-street loading, unloading and parking consistent with and adequate for the use proposed.”

    Hurst- Sec 27-20. Table 20-3. SCHEDULE OF OFF-STREET PARKING STANDARDS

    Kingsville- Sec 15-5-105,105,107,108 In all districts other than the Central Business District (C-3) for which no off-street parking is required, the following schedule shall apply:

    Little Elm- Sec 106-88 When a building or structure is constructed or expanded, off-street parking shall be provided, per the following table:

    Marble Falls- Appendix B Sec 1005 Minimum parking requirements

    Missouri City- Appendix A 12.2 The minimum number of off-street vehicle parking spaces for a permitted use of property shall be as set forth in table 1 below.

    New Braunfels Sec 144-5-1-3 Schedule of required spaces

    Pharr- Appendix A ARTICLE IV. Sec. 1.52. Number of off-street parking spaces required.

    Richland Hills- Sec 90-281 Schedule of Parking Requirements

    Saginaw- Appendix A Sec 8.9 Off-street parking and loading requirements.

    Shenandoah- Sec. 102-435. Parking charts.

    Uvalde- 17.32.010 Requirements. The following off-street parking spaces shall be provided

    Weslaco- Sec. 134-286. Parking requirements based on use.

  6. thislandismyland says:

    Big boxes obviously include the cost of the rent they pay into their pricing structure, so, yes, the use of that parking is not free. Without that “free” parking however, the big box would not be and could not be as “big” because it could not draw enough customers to support the size of the facility. Without that size, the prices you pay at such places would not be the comparative bargains that they are, because the stores could not support the rent they would pay, even sans parking rent, without the customer traffic that the parking supports.

  7. T. Caine says:

    “City planners have no training that would enable them to estimate the demand for parking, and no financial stake in the success of a development,” says Shoup. “They know much less than developers do about how many parking spaces to provide for each project.”

    This might be true, but I would say the reverse is also true and just as important (if not more important.) Developers have no training on how to run a city and how many cars the city can hold on a given time of a given day. It’s not like we can blame them. Developers are interested in financing, building, selling and profiting from urban property. How that property and its occupants affect the urban landscape over time is probably less of a priority. As a result, these people are not really suited to be indirectly determining the traffic patterns of a city.

    The success of dense, urban environments is about more than just the opportunity for someone to do capitalize on the value of their own parcel of property. That value is a result of the very density they contribute and respond to and how the occupants of their property relate to the rest of the city at large. Driving and traffic is a component of that. Those helping to craft parking policy (minimum or maximum) have to have access and an interest in how the city itself functions.

  8. Dan says:

    T Caine,

    Planners generally learn in school (any decent school) that NAICS classes get X spaces per Y sq ft, and how to check the latest ITE manual to see how many are recommended per that class. And many codes of any decent city over, say, 15k population should have code language that states min parking be provided by ITE standards based on NAICS. Non-small cities will have plan review done by a Public Works person or engineering firm that will verify that the stall count corresponds to the land use class. Not hard at all.

    So that is how it works in reality. I also see above @5 that there is another correction here on how reality works. Again, Randal is unconvincing when flailing about trying to speak to the issue.

    However, if we were to take away min parking standards and leave it up to developers to provide parking in non-residential areas, I’d wager that there will be FAR fewer parking spaces provided. I suspect this would lead, during peak periods, to rational utility maximizing agents discovering alternate modes of transport to such destinations (including carpooling).

    DS

  9. jdgalt says:

    @peter:
    Traffic calming policies aren’t intended to be anti-auto; rather, they’re pro-pedestrian. For decades our streets and sidewalks were designed by traffic engineers to promote auto flow, without regard to the safety or ease of travel for people on sidewalks. This was (and still is) another form governmental regulation favoring the automobile over other modes of travel. If you think individuals should have the freedom to choose how to get around, then you should support street design that makes travel safe and convenient for all street users.

    This is just silly. The only fair way to allocate a public good such as a road is to make its users behave in the way that lets as many people as possible benefit from it as much as possible. This means that its throughput and speed must be maximized, and those who insist on interfering with that goal must be kept out.

    If there’s actually demand for walking thoroughfares, the market will build them, but in a way that doesn’t deprive the more important majority.

    Besides, no rational person ever walks when he can drive.

    The notion that “traffic calming” (Orwellian doublespeak for driver-enraging) has a goal other than screwing drivers is nothing but a leftist Big Lie.

  10. teb says:

    @Dan. Thanks for the plug.

    I have to disagree with you on one point though. As a trained planner, the problem isn’t that we aren’t taught parking requirements in school. The problem is that the parking requirements we’re taught are half gibberish; old wives tales handed down from previous planners based on scanty evidence and a false set of assumptions. The ITE manual is based on very small sample sizes that do not take into account context or rather always assume a suburban sprawl context (as i recall there are a number of disclaimers printed in the book itself that say as much). Most planners aren’t taught to critically evaluate the recommendations. The major false assumption is that parking an F150 size vehicle for free at every destination within eyeshot of the door is a G-d given right that all builders must account for regardless of the cost.

  11. Borealis says:

    Teb brought up a great point. Planners can greatly improve society if they would address the width and length of parking spaces in an era of Cadillac Escalades and F 250s.

    Some people advocate giving them wider spaces at the back of the parking lot, but many of them seem to have handicapped parking passes. I always wondered how one could have a handicapped parking pass and yet still be able to repel down out of those vehicles.

  12. Dan says:

    This means that its throughput and speed must be maximized, and those who insist on interfering with that goal must be kept out.

    This is old-school and why traffic calming is being implemented, because old-school doesn’t work.

    @ 10 (teb):

    I agree we weren’t taught how to think critically about parking. Many places will waive the minimums if you can do your own parking study, but that doesn’t mean small-town planners can analyze that study. We all know many developments are over-parked as well, and their parking is poorly designed and a giant contributor to the UHI and stormwater issues. And I’m not defending the ITE, I’m pointing out the erroneous argument by the blog purveyor by bringing it up.

    DS

  13. bennett says:

    “This means that its throughput and speed must be maximized, and those who insist on interfering with that goal must be kept out.”

    Talk about silliness in the theory vacuum. If this were the model there would be no downtown, no main street, no on-street parking, no traditional neighborhoods. Fewer choices. Less Freedom. Just pods of surface parking in between stretches of mega-highway.

    “The only fair way to allocate a public good such as a road is to make its users behave in the way that lets as many people as possible benefit from it as much as possible.”

    …including those who are not behind the wheel.

    This is the problem with the old traffic engineering model. It’s just over glorified plumbing. Bigger pipe. Bigger Pipe. Bigger Pipe. The only problem is that people, businesses, goods and services are not poo.

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